Questions for Obama

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It’s second in my pile on my nightstand.

The marvellous David Olusoga is going to interview Obama on Wednesday. I have a burning question that I’d like him to ask.

Some background first.

I lived in America (San Jose, CA & NYC, NY) for almost 25 years. I followed American politics very closely from about 1996 until the day I came home to England.

I was perpetually disgusted by the Republicans and disappointed by the Democrats until the skinny kid with the funny name burst onto the scene at the 2004 Democratic Convention.

There is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America.

I followed Obama closely after that speech and was impressed enough to make a promise.

If Obama…

1. runs for president.
2. is elected and
3. doesn’t suck

…then I will vote for his reelection

The implication being that I would apply for US citizenship, having resisted for so many years.

My hopes grew through the excitement of the 2008 primary campaign. I’d never before heard a speaker who was so able to tell a story; to speak of values and morality — rather than policies and legislation — in words that everyone could understand and agree with.

The highlight for me was the Walls of Jericho speech at Ebenezer church — the best speech of my political lifetime.

I got tears in my eyes all over again watching it just now.

So my question for Obama is: Why did this all stop after you got elected?

They say that politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose. Obama governed in bullet points. I never again heard him speak to the American people this way after he was elected.

Like many, I was disappointed by the legislative failures of the Obama administration. Yes, yes. Mitch McConnell was mean to him and the Republicans blocked everything he tried to do but that’s not the source of my disenchantment.

It’s that Obama never used his platform — the highest platform in the world — to tell moral stories about why his policies were morally essential.

Candidate Obama told us he was going to change the way that the US Government operates.

“If we do not change our politics — if we do not fundamentally change the way Washington works — then the problems we’ve been talking about for the last generation will be the same ones that haunt us for generations to come.”

“But let me be clear — this isn’t just about ending the failed policies of the Bush years; it’s about ending the failed system in Washington that produces those policies. For far too long, through both Democratic and Republican administrations, Washington has allowed Wall Street to use lobbyists and campaign contributions to rig the system and get its way, no matter what it costs ordinary Americans.”

The Decline and Fall of Hope and Change

Obama had so many opportunities to remind us that America is a moral nation but never again did we hear him appeal to us to live up to our ideals. He governed with his phone and his pen when he should have been governing us from his pulpit.

Some examples…

Obama campaigned on a “public option” for healthcare during the primary debates. It was the biggest difference between Obama and Clinton on healthcare policy. He made it a moral issue that 45 million Americans did not have health insurance.

After the election, his speeches on healthcare were all about “bending the cost curve” and “if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor”. We never again heard about the moral imperative of giving everyone access to healthcare.

Worse, he left the drafting of what became Obamacare to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi who were quick to forget all those campaign appeals to our shared humanity. How might those horse-trading sessions with Stupak and Nelson and Leiberman had gone if they saw Obama on the telly every night telling the 9-year old Ashley’s story of going without food so that her mother could pay for her cancer care?

I consider it a great shame that the greatest political speaker of a generation allowed the Republicans — The Republicans! — to win the moral argument in the public opinion with lies about Death Panels.

Obama missed a moral trick on bailouts for bankers too. Yes, yes. The bail outs happened under Bush but the aftermath and the recovery happened under Obama. It was sickening to see those Goldman Sachs bankers counting their bonuses in the middle of greatest recession in three generations. Was there ever a better time for a Democratic president to take up the cry of “We are the 99%”? Instead, he left it to a bunch of hippies occupying Zuccotti Park and the winning moral slogan for the next couple of years became “Don’t tread on me”.

Occupy Education: Using the Occupy Movements' Hand Gestures to Stimulate  Engagement in Flat Classrooms – Ideas Out There
Jazz Hands in Zuccotti Park

I don’t even know where to start on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill when BP managed to spill 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico when his political opponents’ favourite slogan in the previous election had been “Drill, baby! Drill!

Surely an orator skilled in moral exhortation should have been able to recruit the American people to the cause of environmentalism? Off the top of my head, I can’t remember Obama saying much about it at all.

By the 2012 election, Obama’s rhetorical talents were a fading memory and the Republicans were able to deride him as a reader of teleprompters.

Instead of applying for citizenship, I renewed my Green Card and my next vow, four years later was that, if Trump wins, we are going home. And here we are in Bristol.

I didn’t leave my home of 25 years just because I was disappointed in Obama or because I was appalled by Trump or — worst of all — because 70 million people voted for a cruel, incompetent conman to be their president. But they all helped us make up our minds and I am glad to be home.

Professor Olusoga will surely be tempted to ask President Obama about the meaning of this moment when America’s First Crime Family will finally be leaving the White House or to celebrate with Obama the fact that we will finally have a President again who can speak in whole sentences. Maybe he’ll get really tough and ask about whether the nasty Republicans will be as obstructive to Biden’s agenda as they were to Obama’s. But everyone will be asking him that stuff.

I want to know why Obama stopped speaking to us in poetry.

Or, even better, will we hear his poetry again?

A funny thing happened on the way back from the vet

I’ve had a great day, thanks. How was your day?

When I say “great day”, here’s what happened today.

When I woke up this morning my dog couldn’t stand up. Couldn’t walk. I called the vet. Vet is just around the corner. Mucho handy.

Vet was closed. Like, it closed last week. Forever. Vet was part of the Zetland chain so I called Zetland. They could get me an appointment at another vet at 4:15 this afternoon. This other vet is in Bumfuq, Egypt. I’ll need to hire a car!

I booked my Zipcar.

Returning a Zipcar | Zipcar

PRO TIP: Zipcars are available 15 minutes before the appointed time if they are not otherwise booked. I got there 15 minutes early to make my Vet’s appointment in plenty of time. Car was not there so I waited until the appointed time and looked forward to glaring at the previous renter for cutting it so fine.

Appointed time came and went with no sign of my car so I called Zipcar.

“Car is not here.” I said. “Yes, it is.” they said.

“No, it’s not.”, I said.

“Oh! Wait! That car? Oh, no. That car is somewhere else. Someone had parked in the spot. It’s at No. 1 Crow Street now.”

“Thanks!” I said, and hung up.

Google says there’s no such thing as No. 1 Crow Street. Not within 50 miles anyway. I call again.

When you call Zipcar, you have to go through a whole verification procedure. It’s not short. I’m already late for my vet appointment.

Next dude tells me the car is in the spot. I say it’s not in the spot. The previous dude told me it’s at No. 1 Crow Street but that doesn’t exist. This dude said it’s outside the Flub-mumble-Ali-something building. I say “Outside the what now?” He says “Let me get you the postcode.”

Yep. My Zipcar is in a different postcode.

I eventually found the car and set off for the vet in Bumfuq, Egypt.

Google Maps apparently did not know that all the bridges in Bristol are currently closed to cars so we did eight laps of the one-way system trying to get out of the City Centre.

I arrived at the vet about 10 minutes late but they are all covid-lockdown-one-patient-at-a-time-etc so I waited outside while the woman in front discussed her Shitsu’s dodgy stomach with the Vet’s assistant for 20 minutes.

The assistant eventually got to me and said I can come in and take a seat as soon as that other woman has gone. She was there a long time. There was a queue forming behind me.

40 minutes later, the vet came out and said “I’m going to see this gentlemen and his dog, Charlie, next because your appointment was at 4:15 but you were late. Charlie’s appointment was at 5pm and he was here on time. “

Meanwhile I’m stood out in the street, carrying my crying dog because the Shitsu with the dodgy stomach and his owner were still hogging the single spot in the waiting room.

After another eternity, Pearl and I got to see the vet. Vet said “I have no idea what is wrong with your dog but here are some strong drugs.”

I head back to the car. As I am getting in my Zipcar in residential Bumfuq, Egypt, I hear a shout.

“Excuse me, sir!”

“Oh, no!” I thought. “I am in trouble for parking in the wrong spot.”

I turned to see an old man, older than Methuselah, carrying two large shopping bags.

“I don’t have COVID!” he said. “I have ataxia. Can you give me a lift home? I live just over there.”

Mr Methuselah was straight out of the casting call for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He may not have had COVID but he probably had most other diseases judging by the growths on his temple and his rasping wheeze. I was sure he would have a special item for me. Or murder me. There was an episode on Tales of the Unexpected like that once.

Light the lighter 10 times and win the Jag, or get your little finger cut off!

I say “Sure. Get in.”

“The tricky bit will be getting across the street to get to your car. I have ataxia. Would you give me your arm?”

I gave him my arm. We make it into the Zipcar and set off.

“It’s just down here on the right”.

“Next left”

“Keep going to the top of the hill”

“About half a mile more.”

“Next right. Then it’s just around the corner.”

I dropped Mr Methuselah off at his house. Actually: not quite at his house because he had a story about how he did not want to wake his wife up because she has “issues”.

Mr Methuselah was very grateful but he did not have a special item. He did not murder me so that’s something.

I drove off feeling like I had done my good deed for the day and I couldn’t wait to share the story with Mrs Clown.

I had to extend my Zipcar reservation because I was, by now, very late. When I got back to the appointed spot, I found it was occupied by a big ugly SUV so I drove around and around for another 20 minutes, looking for a parking space.

When I FINALLY made it home, I told Mrs Clown my story but she was so mad at me for helping an old man with ataxia that I will be sleeping on the couch tonight. I hope tomorrow will be better.

APPENDIX ONE

Calling all Zipcar renters!

When some Fuckwit parks their big SUV in the spot that is clearly marked for Car Club Owners only, is it permissible to park your Zipcar as close as possible to the big SUV’s bumper — like, almost touching it — so that it is impossible for the Fuckwit to get out of the parking space without calling Zipcar?

r/badparking - It looks like the car behind him is parking too close but its actually the person in front having shitty parallel park skills

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT

Don’t park your big fucking SUV in my fucking Zipcar spot! It’s for Zipcars only.

parking | The DYNAMITE! Files

When you park in my Zipcar spot, I have to drive around and around the city looking for somewhere to park it and then the next Zipcar renter can’t find it and is late for an appointment.

Epilogue

Sadly, I couldn’t do this today because there were double yellow lines but I did get a little spiteful satisfaction from just imagining the Fuckwit in his big SUV calling Zipcar to explain that he HAD PARKED IN THE CLEARLY MARKED ZIPCAR SPOT and now he couldn’t get his big, ugly SUV out.

I felt like I had some surplus karma from the Methuselah Incident and I would have been happy to use a little of it to punish the fuckwit in the SUV but I feared the long arm of the law so I drove around and around for a long time looking for a parking spot. I’ll save my karma for another day.

Naked in the Woods

I was 15 when all the kids in my neighbourhood snuck into Marten’s Grove to go skinny dipping. It was the first time I had ever seen so many girls my own age in the nude. I remember it still.

We were having a fantastic time when suddenly we were lit up by about 6 pairs of headlights.

Police!

We didn’t have time to get dressed and just grabbed our clothes and ran!

We must have made quite a sight — 20 naked teenagers running naked through the woods. I bet the police guys who chased us enjoyed telling the story too.

Tony, Peter, Claire, Sarah, Sian, Michelle, Kerry, Shaun!
Where are you now?

Photo: Bexley Archives

Epilogue:
I got a thorn in my foot from running through the woods and it got infected and I had to go to the hospital to have it removed. During the surgery, while I was lying there in my underwear the most beautiful nurse I had ever seen comforted me by softly rubbing my thigh.

It definitely took my mind off the procedure but I’m not sure that was exactly what protocol required.

Life in the Falklands

Larissa MacFarquahar has a fascinating and brilliant history of the last fifty-something years of the Falkland Islands in this week’s New Yorker. MacFarquahar is like an itinerant storyteller from ancient times, weaving the threads of stories that are not her own. One of those stories could have been mine.

How Prosperity Transformed the Falklands
by Larissa MacFarquhar

When I was eleven, my mother and father were having one of those cruel yes-in-front-of-the-children arguments that I understand now, with the wisdom of age, foreshadowed the divorce creeping up to change all of our lives forever.

My father worked in a meat factory owned by Southern Ships Stores, the main importer of meat and fish from the Falkland Islands. They offered him a job in Port Stanley, the capital of the Falklands.

“Go!” said mother.

“I will!” said father, “and I’ll take Bill with me.”

When I was born, my mother and father never agreed on a name for me. To my mother, I was Kevin. To my father, I was always Bill. Dad called me Kevin for the first time in 2009, not long before he died.

My father left our lives soon after that argument on the balcony but he never made it to the Falklands. That turned out be fortune of the best kind since we would have made it there just in time for the arrival of the Argentinian invaders. In one of Fortune’s more playful tricks, I made own voyage Down South on HMS Southampton in 1984.

When Dad became a Saturday father, he took me on days out every weekend, usually up to London where he would drop me off at the Science Museum or, with my skateboard, at Greenwich Park. He’d tell me which pub to find him in when I was done.

The Natural History Museum in Kensington.
I spent many a pleasant Saturday afternoon here “with” my Dad.

Sometimes we just spent the afternoon in the Conservative Club in Sidcup or in the Cray Valley Working Man’s Club – whichever had the cheapest beer – and he’d buy me a half-pint of lager and tell me dodgy stories from his fabulated past.

Were those stories real or were they fiction? Who knows?

Perhaps dad really did apprentice with Arsenal before his dodgy knees gave out after playing for England Schoolboys vs West Berlin in 1948 and maybe the gangs of South London really did have razor blades sewn into their collars. Bricks through rival gangs’ café windows? Cook on the QE2? Maybe some of this happened.

I have a whole bookful of similar stories that I tell my own children about my adventure-filled past but mine are all true. I should write them down someday.

Southern Ships Stores went bankrupt in 1980 and my dad was out of work for a while. I had always assumed that this was part of Thatcher’s wonderful plan for the British economy but I now understand it to be another chapter in the history of the Falklands. If SSS had hung on for another few years they could have had a share of the cascades of prosperity that Larissa describes in her article. Perhaps we could have too. Alas! They died too soon.

What would life have been like for me if Ken and Bill had headed down to those desolate islands?

On my later visit to the Falklands, we called the locals ”Bennies” because of their resemblance to the character from Crossroads. Would I have been a Benny drinking my life away in Penguin Ale in a shack in Port Stanley?

Port Stanley in 1984. There were four pubs selling Penguin Ale.
I don’t remember why but I was banned from all four.

Maybe I would have been one of those sheep farmers waiting to greet the Marines when they yomped into Goose Green.

In my own Turn Left moment, would I have watched HMS Southampton sail into San Carlos Water in 1984 from the cold, barren shores?

Christmas Day 1984, San Carlos Water.

Though they did not send me to that lonely life in the South Atlantic, the timely-wimey strands of fate had other plans for me. The ripples from the splash of the divorce rocked my boat for years after the initial impact. I was in constant trouble for all of my school years and I fled my blended family at the first opportunity with just a St Christopher from my mum and twenty quid from my dad to go join the Grey Funnel Line.

What stories would I have, had I stayed?

At 2100 hours on 14 June 1982, the commander of the Argentine garrison in Stanley, General Mario Menéndez, surrendered to the Major General Jeremy Moore.

Urbs vs Suburbs

I love this line from @pippa_bailey in The New Stateman:

“I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I did know that I wanted it to be in zone two.”

I used to be unable to imagine life outside zone two.

I grew up in suburbia but I got my first Red Bus Rover at age 10, and, with my 8 year old next door neighbour, toured all the famous places. Trafalgar square. Buckingham Palace. Hamleys!

Trafalgar Square, London 2 - Jun 2009.jpg
Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC BY-SA 3.0

It was 12¾ miles by train to Charing Cross station and I must’ve made that journey a thousand times in my teenage years. St James Park. The Natural History Museum. Oxford Street. Ice skating at Queensway.

Sidcup railway station, Greater London.jpg
Sidcup Station By Nigel Thompson, CC BY-SA 2.0
(The Rolling Stones were born on Platform 1)

I finally got to live in Zone 2 after I left the RN. Whitechapel had the BEST pubs for music. The George on Commercial Street had an amateur hour on Fridays where any one of those pensioners could’ve been a star in their day. Maybe they were?

Image may contain: outdoor
The George Tavern, Commercial Road, 1969, London – by David Granick

I swore I’d never live in suburbia again. Plymouth Hoe was next but we soon traded our view of the Sound for the shadows of the World Trade Centre in Manhattan.

25 Stunning Timelapse GIFs | New york city manhattan, New york ...
New York, New York.

Two years of that and we headed for San Francisco but we missed it by sixty miles. We ended up surrounded by the dreary strip malls of Almaden Valley for the next 23 years with four-mile drive to the nearest pub, the Britannia Arms. Thank God they put a bar inside Wholefoods.

Photo of Blossom Hill Taproom - San Jose, CA, United States. 5/26/17- There are 2 flat screens available.
Tap Room at Whole Foods Market Blossom Hill in San Jose

My vow was dormant but not forgotten and now here we are in the thick of it again. Home at last. There must be 100 pubs and restaurants within a mile or two. Three of my favourites are just minutes away. The Grain Barge, The Broken Dock and The Three Tuns are as much home as my actual home.

Image
The Grain Barge in Bristol Harbour

We get asked all the time why anyone would trade California for Bristol but this is the view from outside my house and I awake every Sunday to cathedral bells.

Image
Brunel Quay, Bristol Harbour with Mr Brunel’s ship in the background.

Contra their reputation, cities are much friendlier than the suburbs and I strike up a conversation with a stranger every single time I go to the pub. That happened maybe four times in twenty years in Silicon Valley. It helps to have a cute dog.

Image
Dog with Wine at The Bristol Cheesemonger, Wapping Wharf.

When we came home to England we chose Bristol at random like a Womble choosing his name on Uncle Bulgaria’s map of the world.

Clifton Suspension Bridge from The Avon Gorge Hotel.

It was home all along but we never knew it until now.

Cars. Past tense.

There is a day, just a few years in the future, when the tyranny of the motor car over our towns and cities will come to an end. 

When my car is both electric and autonomous (not long to wait now), I won’t need to allocate a big chunk of my property, or worse, a big chunk of my city’s roads, to a place for my car to rest for twelve hours a day. It’ll just head out to the big charging station on the outside of town and it’ll be back, waiting outside my door, when I’m ready to go to work in the morning. 

But wait! If it’s just going to take me to work every day does it even need to be MY car. I can just rent one for the twenty five minutes it takes to get to work. Or maybe my employer will have a pool of autonomous vehicles to round up all their employees and get them home safely. Imagine how much they’d save on parking structures. 

The most expensive part of a taxi is the driver. When the driver is gone, taxis will be cheaper than owning a car and if most people use taxis most of the time, it will be cheaper to subscribe to a service rather than pay for journeys individually. For commonly traveled routes, we’ll have larger vehicles that carry many people at a time. We will call them “buses”.

As car ownership models morph into car subscription models our city streets will no longer be lined with empty, useless vehicles. Our villages will no longer be clogged with ugly great SUVs. Imagine visiting that lovely little town in Tuscany and not finding the piazza cram-full with Fiat 500s!

Some ungodly number of cars on city streets are just driving around and around looking for parking. Soon they’ll be gone! Poof! Our cities and towns will be, for the first time in a hundred years, for people to walk in again. 

Around the world, about one million people die in traffic accidents every year. Traffic accidents are responsible for about one third of traffic congestion. The number of car-related fatalities has been falling consistently since 1952 and most accidents are caused by human error. With self-driving cars, the era of road traffic accidents will come to an end. We’ll have to find new ways to kill each other.

It has been estimated that roads can safely accommodate seven times the number of vehicles when they are autonomous rather than people driven. We could have seven times times the number of cars on the road! No! Wait! Let’s not do that. Let’s have one seventh the number of roads instead!

If this vision sounds like a wonderful science fiction, spend a few weeks in Mountain View, California and count the number autonomous, electric vehicles you see. They are coming here too. It won’t be long. 

It’s hard for AI to deal with the crazy, reckless, human drivers on our streets but there will come a tipping point when autonomous electric cars are cheaper, safer and cleaner than the old fashioned kind and the only people driving retro vehicles will be those stuck in some twentieth century motoring fantasy and old geezers in Range Rovers. Good luck finding insurance, Old Geezers!

This future can’t come fast enough for me. 

My family already got rid of  our two cars. The Zipcar only costs £3 for half an hour to drive down to the garden centre to pick up some pots that are too heavy to walk with. It’s a ten minute walk to pick up my Zipcar but, soon, it will be driving over to pick me up instead. It’s less than £100 to rent a big ol’ Vauxhall Moka to drive down to Cornwall for the weekend. 

£9 for a round trip to the airport.

People in cities already don’t need cars and it’s selfish to have them. Folks in villages will have to wait a few more years for Utopia to arrive but… it’s coming for sure.

Pontevedra. The city that banned cars.

Folks who commute will have to put up with awful trains and dreadful traffic for a while longer but, make no mistake, the future is just around the corner and it’s beautiful. 

Will you stand in future’s way? Or will you climb aboard?

Travels with Epicurus

A charming meditation on the wonders of old age.

Travels with Epicurus

I’d previously read Mr Klein’s wonderful little book of philosophy jokes — Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar — but didn’t realize until halfway through that it was by the same author.

A running theme of Travels with Epicurus is that too many folks miss out on the charms of old age by trying to stay forever young. Mr Klein grabbed my attention with an anecdote about his dentist telling him that, unless he got seven implants to replace all of his lower front teeth, he would end up with an old man’s smile. Mr Klein decided that, since he actually is an old man, an old man’s smile seems perfectly appropriate and saved his money. Having been on the receiving end of countless dentists’ promises that, if only I gave them $8000 my life would be so much better, I decided that Mr Klein was a philosopher I could learn from.

The book is part reverie on the delights of just hanging out with other old folk on a little Greek island and part review of what philosophers throughout history, primarily Epicurus but also Sinatra and other modern philosophers, have had to say about growing older—the gist being that you should just slow down and enjoy old age and not cling on to lost youth. 

Denying that we are old is certainly not close, in order of magnitude, to denying that we are mortal, yet the two denials are clearly related.
[…] 
Because, what happens then is that we proceed directly from the “forever young” stage of life to old old age, missing forever the chance at being a fulfilled old man “docked in the harbor, having safeguarded his true happiness.” We lose out for eternity on what I am beginning to agree with Epicurus is the pinnacle of life.

There’s a lovely little story of four old men sitting in their Greek taverna and admiring a beautiful young woman approaching down the steps. In the #metoo era, we might condemn them as dirty old men but, Mr Klein says no.

He and his friend are again seated at their table, chatting amiably, so far exclusively about the weather and what it portends. Then quite abruptly, they all go quiet. To a man, they are gazing up at the top step of the stone stairs that lead down from the coast path and past the taverna’s terrace. A young woman has appeared there, and the wind is pressing her blouse and skirt against her splendid, voluptuous body. For a moment, she pauses there, perhaps enjoying the warm breeze, but more likely enjoying the effect that she is having on the men looking up at her.

Mr Klein uses this story to riff on the idea that the forever young set, with their implants and their Cialis, are clinging to the obsessions of youth whereas the comfortably old are free to enjoy beauty without the distractions of desire. He quotes Mr Sinatra’s wistful “I See It Now”:

That world I knew is lost to me
Loves have come and gone
The years go racing by
I live as best I can
And all at once I know it means the making of a man
I see it now
I see it now

More on this theme from “This Is All I Ask”, from the same album, September of My Years.

Beautiful girls,
Walk a little slower
When you walk by me
Lingering sunsets,
Stay a little longer with the lonely sea.

It’s lovely little book. Don’t expect fireworks—just warm, witty reflections on life from Mr Klein, Frank Sinatra and Epicurus.

He who says either that the time for philosophy has not yet come or that it has passed is like someone who says that the time for happiness has not yet come or that it is passed.

— Epicurus

Brexit is like a game of Tiddlywinks

Choose your metaphors carefully.

Brexit is like a game of tiddlywinks

We played a game two and a half years ago and you lost. That’s why you want another game. Then what? Best of three?

But you cheated last time!

So did you!

But I won the previous game 50 years ago!

Brexit is like choosing where to go on holiday

We agreed we were going to Great Yarmouth this year!

But you promised me palm trees! Can’t we look at the catalogue again? We can still get our deposit back.

We’re going to Great Yarmouth. I don’t care if it is raining all week.

Brexit is like an open marriage

My friend Michael says I’ll be free to date other people. Like Scarlett Johansson.

Or Pierce Brosnan.

We can still see each other.

Brexit is like choosing from a menu

This chicken is still raw!

I’m sorry sir, but you ordered the chicken. If you eat your chicken you can order another meal later.

Brexit is like walking out on a marriage

We’ve been happily married for many years now. Well, mostly happy. I hate it when you squeeze the toothpaste tube in the middle. I want a divorce.

But why? Is it because I let those homeless people sleep on the couch?

I need to control my own toothpaste.

You can have your own toothpaste, darling. You don’t need to leave to have your own toothpaste.

Leave means leave. We decided that two and a half years ago.

You decided that! I didn’t!

Brexit is like buying a car

If we tell them what we really want, we won’t get as good a deal. We have to walk away with no car to show them how serious we are. They’ll come running after us. You’ll see. They need this deal more than we do.

Brexit is like a divorce

I want two of the children and the dog. And half the Abba albums.

I don’t even like Abba. Can’t we stay friends? You can visit the children whenever you like.

Where will you sleep tonight? Please don’t go!

No! That’s it! I’m walking away with no deal.

Don’t come running after me!

Photo Credits

Tiddlywinks by KaptainKobold on Flickr and Hannes Grobe on Wikimedia.

Car Shopping by Pictures of Money on Flickr.

Scarlett Johansson by Rogelio A. Galaviz on Flickr.

Dinner Menu from aposac on Pixabay.

Family Torn Apart geralt on Pixabay.

Great Yarmouth by Airman Dillon Johnston

Lonely Man by Jim Jackson on Pexels.

Brexit Despair and Brexit Hope

The hardest thing to bear in all of this is that no one is allowed to tell the truth: not May, not Corbyn, not the People’s Vote People, not the Daily Mail, not the BBC, not even the Guardian editorial writers. It’s like everyone watched A Few Good Men and learned the wrong lesson from it.

If I were Theresa May and more worried about the fate of my party than the fate of my country, I would make some cosmetic change to the Withdrawal Agreement (like, make the backstop orange instead of green or whatever) then try to hold on to this stalemate until the dying light at the end of March before making one desperate plea for My Deal or Deal. It might just work.

If she does anything sensible like making a deal with senior parliamentarians that results in a slightly softer Brexit, she is finished as a politician and the Tories are finished as a party.

If I were an ERG Brexiter, I would dance along with May’s Kabuki dance. Best case: May fails, we exit with no deal and one of my friends gets to be the next Prime Minister. Worst case, we get Brexit with an Orange Backstop and one of my friends gets to be the next Prime Minister.

I don’t know what I would do if I were Corbyn. I shot my bolt yesterday and missed the target. Perhaps my next move in this 11 dimensional chess game is to go all People’s Vote? Or perhaps I want a Brexit and all its horrible consequences that I can forever blame on the Tories.

I think the People’s Vote people are wounded now too. I was one of these people the day before yesterday but the storyline has moved on. There was a good case for a three way vote: May’s Deal, No Deal or No Brexit but May’s Deal is no longer a credible choice.

If I were a country-over-party tory like, maybe, Ken Clarke, I would try to finagle a No Confidence vote that results in a coalition government. This coalition would amend May’s deal to keep us in the Customs Union and call it done. I think it would pass. Does anyone not wearing a top hat and a monocle believe we could make better trade deals than the ones we already have? The politicians in Westminster should just get on with it.

If I were to wish my biggest wish, the Labour Party would (somehow) fight a general election with not-Corbyn at the helm. The manifesto would be 1) Cancel A50. 2) Commission a panel of experts (or a People’s Assembly, whatever) to design a proper, unicorn-free Brexit 3) Put the result to a three-way People’s Vote: deal vs no deal vs remain. If it’s my lucky day, Remain would win but I’d accept any of the outcomes.

At my most cynical, I’d appeal to all those people that the BBC keeps rounding up for their sham Vox Pop sessions and, after they had agreed that they are all fed up with hearing about Brexit, I’d tell them that if we just withdraw Article 50, we need never mention Brexit ever again.

When do we forget?

Mrs Clown and I attended the Remembrance Day parade in Bristol yesterday. My nan and grandad took me to my first parade in Footscray in, maybe, 1972. I was in the first rank of the Bexleyheath parade as a Sea Cadet in 1980 and marched with the grown up soldiers and sailors on Plymouth Hoe in 1982.

Aftermath (1919)

Have you forgotten yet?…
For the world’s events have rumbled on since those gagged days,
Like traffic checked a while at the crossing of city ways:
And the haunted gap in your mind has filled with thoughts that flow
Like clouds in the lit heavens of life; and you’re a man reprieved to go,
Taking your peaceful share of Time, with joy to spare.
But the past is just the same,—and War’s a bloody game….
Have you forgotten yet?…
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.

Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz,—
The nights you watched and wired and dug and piled sandbags on parapets?
Do you remember the rats; and the stench
Of corpses rotting in front of the front-line trench,—
And dawn coming, dirty-white, and chill with a hopeless rain?
Do you ever stop and ask, “Is it all going to happen again?”

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack,—
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads, those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?…
Look up, and swear by the green of the Spring that you’ll never forget.

Siegfried Sassoon, 1886-1967

Despite what the Bristol Post says, there were very few young people at the parade yesterday, other than small children with their parents and the cadets marching in the parade. I wonder how long these parades will continue?

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When we recited the Lord’s Prayer, I was struck by the fact that everyone around me knew the words too. How long before that, too, is forgotten?

Anglicans add the line “for thine is the kingdom the power and the glory forever and ever” to the end of the Lord’s Prayer but a recent survey by British Social Attitudes says that “Only 3% of adults under 24 describe themselves as Anglican”. Maybe Christianity will last for ever, but maybe not that bit of the prayer.

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We sang Carols at the tree lighting ceremony in Clifton Village last Wednesday. They handed out hymn sheets but everyone already knew the words. I saw no young people though either despite the thousands of students who live in Clifton. How long before Carols are forgotten too?

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I believe it was the battles of the Somme and Verdun and Passchendaele that precipitated the long slide in religious belief in Europe. When the Church, all over Europe, gave so much support for the most atrocious war in all history, it’s hard to imagine that its moral authority could continue forever. Maybe it’s right that we should forget those terrible wars now. After all, we’ve had more than 70 years of peace now.

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The European Union has its roots in an effort to bind together the French and German economies after World War 2 so that these terrible tragedies might never happen again. Churchill, having seen a few wars first-hand himself, was a supporter. Too many people have forgotten this and now a handful of Tory opportunists have persuaded them that we don’t need this security any more. Across the Atlantic, the American president is doing his best to undermine the institutions that have kept us safe and prosperous for so long. Half the country thinks this will somehow Make America Great Again.

At the Remembrance ceremonies in France, Macron and Merkel held hands in a symbolic rejection of past enmities. The American president, famously, chose not attend the remembrance of America’s contribution to the end of World War I.

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As these awful conflicts fade out of memory, it becomes easier to think that they’ll never happen again, even as we dismantle the institutions that made them stop.

“So now every April I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me.
And I see my old comrades, how proudly they march
Reliving their dreams and past glory,
I see the old men all tired, stiff and sore
Those forgotten heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask “What are they marching for?”
And I ask myself the same question.
But the band plays Waltzing Matilda,
And the old men still answer the call,
But year after year, the numbers get fewer
Someday, no one will march there at all.”
—Eric Bogle

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